Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Chantal Akerman’s haunting 1977 film News from Home will screen at the Northwest Film Forum on May 12; it’s a series of evocative shots of New York City, accompanied by the sound of Akerman’s voice reading letters from her mother in Belgium. This ingenious filmmaker, best known for her 1976 masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, is well-served by the Scarecrow mission. Where else would you find a “Chantal Akerman” section devoted to her work? (No, seriously—is there anywhere else?) Features, short films, and documentaries about Akerman are included here. I will point out one feature that made a big impression on me over thirty years ago: Toute une nuit, from 1982. In a structure that echoes La Ronde (and prefigures Slacker), Akerman tracks the progress of a single summer night in Brussels, moving from one person to the next, like an eavesdropper content to listen in for a while and then skip to something else. The people look for connection, an elusive goal on this lonely night. This is a fine introduction to Akerman’s work, especially if the three-hour Jeanne Dielman sounds daunting—which it shouldn’t.
Fritz Böhm’s Wildling opens May 11 at the Varsity theater, a horror picture with Liv Tyler and Brad Dourif. Now then: Brad Dourif. Here’s a career that nobody would’ve predicted in 1975, when Dourif was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the sensitive Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. How that tender young actor became known for playing forehead-vein-bulging maniacs (with a strong cult following for being Chucky in the Child’s Play series) is a subject for a biographer, but Dourif’s skills have remained potent throughout an up-and-down filmography. He’s so good as an obsessive quasi-preacher in John Huston’s Wise Blood (1979) that the performance may have typecast him more than Cuckoo’s Nest did; as the grim-jawed proselytizer for a church without Christ, Dourif paints a definitive portrait of someone you’d cross the street to avoid. He logged some high-profile projects, like Milos Forman’s Ragtime (1981) and Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980), but his ability to tap the nutso vein was noticed by David Lynch (for Dune and Blue Velvet), and Dourif has had a hard time avoiding the image since—still, he works so much, he’s had variety if you look hard enough. For one of his prime psychos, check out Exorcist III, the 1990 film directed by Exorcist novelist William Peter Blatty. Dourif’s performance is a virtuoso exercise in taking horror-movie monologizing to operatic heights. Interest in the film has quietly grown over the years, including a partial reconstruction of Blatty’s original cut, titled Legion. In either version, Dourif’s commitment to being in the moment remains fierce.
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.